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A networking pro lists five reasons you need Fedora Core 6 Linux

Red Hat's latest free Linux disribution has new features so good that Greg Schaffer made the switch.

By Greg Schaffer
November 9, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - As a network professional, I have used various Linux-based systems for many years in troubleshooting and monitoring networks. The wide array of open-source applications made Linux an attractive and cost-effective solution for a variety of network management uses. However, Linux has never been my operating system of choice for my office desktop. Its limitations in other areas and often cumbersome installation and configuration, simply put, left it as a specialized operating system for specific needs.

That is, until now. Red Hat Inc. recently released its latest free distribution of Linux, Fedora Core 6. I was so impressed with this release that I have replaced one of my two desktop machines operating systems with it. Here's why you, as a networker, need to seriously look at Fedora Core 6.

Ease of installation

There are many distributions available based on the Linux kernel. A distribution bundles the Linux kernel with various open-source applications and drivers to create a customized operating system. The larger the distribution the less chance that a necessary item (such as a device driver or software application) needs to be downloaded and installed separately.

The installation of the basic Fedora Core distribution, as with previous Fedora releases, is quite simple. Download five CD images or one DVD image, burn the disks and boot from the media (disk 1 if installing from CD). The install process is graphical or, if on an older system, can be performed via text menus. Either way, the options are the same, and a machine that requires a text-based installation does not necessarily mean the GUI OS front end cannot run.

There are many packages available for installation, but for the basic setup it's best to choose from the three generic options offered for office productivity, development and Web services. You should choose all three if you'll want to add features that depend on these later, but it's not necessary. If you add packages later, Fedora will automatically determine and install necessary dependent packages.

Once basic information is entered (IP address or DHCP, machine name, disk partitioning, etc.) the installation program determines the selected package dependencies and begins the installation process. Time to complete is dependent on options selected and machine type, but even an old PIII with a 6 GB drive completed the installation in less than 45 minutes.

Whether a completed system is arrived at through a simple exercise or hair-pulling moments, ultimately it's the applications that can run on the system that bring value to installing an open-source operating system. By bundling many useful packages with its distribution, this is where Fedora Core excels.

OpenOffice

On installation, selecting the office productivity option installed the open-source OpenOffice 2.0 suite. OpenOffice is a multiplatform application with versions that run not only on Linux but Windows, OS X, Solaris and FreeBSD. So you don't need a Linux-based operating system to run OpenOffice, but it integrates with Linux quite well.

One of the major impediments for running Linux on an office system has been the lack of products that can interface well with Microsoft Office. Periodically over the last several years I have evaluated such products and found them to be substandard at best. A network professional needs to produce documents so users of Microsoft Office can view them. None of the previous evaluations accomplished that to my satisfaction.

Not so with OpenOffice. The package includes a word processor (Writer), a spreadsheet (Calc) and a presentation module (Impress). All appear to integrate well with Microsoft Office.

I'm most "impressed" with Impress. Spreadsheet and word processor integrations have progressed well over the years, but the rule of thumb seemed to be if you wanted to create a PowerPoint presentation, you needed to purchase PowerPoint. Impress presentations work well in PowerPoint and vice-versa.

After installing Fedora Core with OpenOffice on my desktop machine, the first test I performed was to import an existing PowerPoint presentation that I needed to modify for a seminar the next day. Working in Impress was virtually identical to working in PowerPoint.

Figure 1: Creating a presentation with Impress
Figure 1: Creating a presentation with Impress

I have had similar integration successes with Word and Excel documents. In fact, this article was written using both Word and Write, transferring between suites several times. That sort of interoperability is critical when considering the large installed Microsoft Office base worldwide.

I'm sure there are some differences with advanced features that may produce incompatibility, but for the majority of documents produced the two suites appear completely compatible. For basic document producers, OpenOffice is a feature-rich, cost-effective solution.

OpenOffice is of course not the only application that comes with Fedora. For example, GIMP performs photo manipulation, Rhythmbox plays music files and is a front end for Internet radio, and QCad is a CAD application.

Remote desktop

A colleague of mine, also a Fedora user, remarked that an open-source remote desktop client was included in the previous distribution. This was the spark that caused me to look at Fedora as a day-to-day desktop operating system.

Remote Desktop is perhaps one of the best tools Microsoft has introduced in the past few years. An outgrowth of Terminal Services and bundled with XP, the Remote Desktop client produces the exact desktop of the office machine or Windows server. After installing Fedora Core, I selected "rdesktop" using "Add/Remove Software" to download and install the application.

Figure 2: Remote access to Windows with rdesktop
Figure 2: Remote access to Windows with rdesktop

To me, this was the killer app for installing Fedora Core on my desktop. If I could access my Microsoft machines from a Linux box, a major hurdle to converting to Linux on the desktop was overcome. The application has performed flawlessly. Like its Microsoft counterpart, you can specify different server ports besides the default TCP 3389.



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